Saturday, 1 March 2014

An Exciting Step Forward

It may come as no surprise to you who read this blog regularly when I say that I have a bit of a soft spot for the children I meet here in Chad. Yes, many of them are terrified of the strange colour of my skin and I can’t get anywhere near them without them screaming while the babies rarely wear nappies so having a cuddle with them can be a risky business! For older children, especially in the villages, their childhood is short lived as they become involved in the household tasks and looking after younger siblings. School is attended by some, but this can be intermittent and illiteracy is a real challenge here. In the evenings, when daily tasks have been completed and the heat of the day cools, toys are made from odd bits of sticks or rubbish found around the place. One popular game I’ve seen for little girls is to tie an old broken flip flop to their back as they carry on with their important tasks with their ‘baby’ securely attached.

Life for children here can be tough and in my line of work, obviously it is the health of the children that has particularly struck me since my arrival to Chad. Children who are undernourished, sick with easily preventable illnesses and diseases or children who are bought to the hospital too late have been challenging and difficult situations to see. Just over a year ago, the Hunger Prevention Programme was launched at Guinebor II in a bid to try and reduce the number of children suffering from easily preventable illness and to improve their health. During the first year of this project a new clinic was established available to all children to be weighed and receive free nutritious food, as well as the mothers being taught basic health promoting practices individually and in group settings.

However, a significant part of the project has only just been realised as the necessary equipment was located, bought, transported from Europe to Chad and finally installed in the hospital. It is with great excitement that the hospital here can now offer a fundamental service in child health- vaccinations.

The logistics of offering such a service have not necessarily been straight forward. For example, maintaining a strictly controlled cold chain for the storage of the vaccines is an important consideration. Unlike the UK, during some months of the year the temperatures in Chad are daily in the high 40’s and can occasionally break the 50C threshold. With no electrical power available, maintaining a cold chain of 2-8C is easier said than done. However, after much research a World Health Organisation approved solar powered vaccine fridge was sourced, funded by the Hunger Prevention programme and, having travelled from South Harrow, arrived a few weeks ago amidst great excitement. (With its ridiculously thick insulated wall to keep the cool in and the heat out, there was a significant sigh of relief when, after all the exterior packaging was stripped, it could indeed be squeezed through the door of the pharmacy with millimetres to spare!)

In the UK I had a basic understanding that vaccines were important, but it was only once I came here and witnessed the horror and distress of tetanus, the devastating effects of polio and the needless deaths of measles that I now have a fuller appreciation of something that in the UK I always took for granted.

Before vaccinations were available at Guinebor hospital, families had to walk to other health centres 15km away. Ignorance and misunderstanding of vaccines also contribute to the low vaccination rate of children in the local villages. Having a vaccination programme is promising for the local community, and I hope will reduce to one aspect of the many challenges children face growing up here.

 The run up to the launch of the programme, with the the arrival of the fridge, the training sessions from the World Health Organisation and the many practical considerations such a service requires were exciting, but it was nothing compared to the joy I felt of seeing the first child being vaccinated!

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